World-first surgery creates perfect tension


Operating theatres can be tense places, and no more so than during complex shoulder surgery – in fact, the tension has to be just right.

Surgeons at Perth’s Bethesda Health Care performed a world-first operation in late April, using a new piece of technology that measures tension in the shoulder joint.

Orthopaedic surgeon Dr Sven Goebel performed a reverse total shoulder arthroplasty, using a computer-aided load-balancing sensor.

Dr Goebel said the sensor was “another piece of the puzzle” for surgeons working in this area of medicine.

“This type of operation relies on the tension in the deltoid muscle, and to be honest, we don’t know exactly how much tension we need to get it right.

“And every surgeon does it slightly differently – some have the tension tighter, some have it looser. This sensor aims to get the balance just right,” he said.

During the operation the sensor connects wirelessly to a tablet, allowing surgeons to track the tension and keep tabs on how high the pressure is on the joint.

Dr Goebel said surgeons around the world would be able to collect and use data from the load-balancing sensors as they become more frequently employed in procedures.

“Without the data, we won’t know how helpful it’s going to be overall just yet – but this is a great step forward. Technology is a great adjunct to enable us to place implants more reliably. 

“It has been almost exactly three years to date since I have started using computer-assisted guidance for my shoulder replacements and it has changed my practice forever,” he said.

The sensor technology comes from a company in the United States, and according to Dr Goebel, Australia is an important market.

“Despite our small population, we really do punch above our weight here and scientifically, we also contribute a significant amount,” he said.

Dr Goebel regularly presents and teaches at an international level and was meant to be in New York recently to talk about the load-balancing sensor.

“But obviously, that didn’t happen,” he said.

Dr Goebel said Australia’s leading efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic meant Bethesda Health Care was able to be first in the world to use the sensor technology.

“We’re lucky that, having the surgery restrictions eased here, we were able to do it.

“There’s a little healthy competition among surgeons, and there’s some guys over in the US who have been saying, ‘Oh, you’re the talk of the town’.

“And it’s nice to have some good news, something – in the medical community at least – to distract from all that’s been going on. It’s some positive news,” he said.

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